Real-world game design theory
I've been thinking a lot recently about how to run a game taking the absolute minimum amount of my time. You see, I love running games, but more than that: I love seeing great games run. (Or hearing about them, or whatever.)
But I don't have any time for it now.
Most games take at least three hours per session more than the session itself, adding up to eight hours of your time per week, per game.
That's pretty hefty. Especially if, like me, you don't run most games. You run games that generally end in obsession for at least half your player base. I don't have that kind of time. I'm not convinced anyone does. It's the same problem that MMORPGs have: too many players, not enough team to create content.
Well, why can't we solve it the same way that MMORPGs can? Player-generated content?
At its gross level, there's an element of, "if they want to do that, they can run their own games". But that's simply not even in the same universe as what I'm trying to say. A game is more than just who runs it. It's the rules, the interactions, the inertia. I figure: why not make some rules, interactions, and inertia that can roll with only players?
My first attempt at this - Kung Fu the Card Game the RPG - worked middling. It had some brilliant moments. For example, I had said that the first three people to win would win the game. This was mostly to make people get off their asses and play, not to actually limit the number of winners. However, it was interpreted as a hard limit.
While I was away, they defeated one of the bosses, more or less forcing three people to win. However, they didn't want me to know, to keep me from ending the game. So they came up with an intricate scheme to not only keep me from finding out, but to keep everyone else from trying to fight the boss they had defeated. It was a brilliant play, and very much the sort of thing that, ideally, games will always produce. It was about seven players, working together with stunning precision and near-genius. Half my player base, united and playing without a GM.
That wasn't the only brilliant moment, or the only lesson to learn from. I learned a lot from that game, not least was that - duh - not every player wants the same thing from a game. Not only do players play at different speeds, but they also play different games.
The purpose of a tabletop sit-down game session is really to get everyone playing at the same speed. But I think a game can be created in which there is some kind of slack built in, or some kind of moderation of the passage of time. More accurately, I think I can figure out a way to guarantee player balance despite players playing different amounts of time. The only way to do this would be to have... heh... this is a bit difficult to describe.
This game would have to actually be three or four different games - for players with different interests. However, all players are present in all games. They are useful in all games. But they can only specialize in one game.
So, for example, if one of the games is a military game, one of the players might be a great general. The other players might be artists, or diplomats, or researchers - whatever. They aren't able to be good generals. But they can assist the general. They can upgrade, inspire, gather intelligence. They aren't "main characters" in this conflict - but they're playing a part.
In addition, even in-game, the games have to be... scoped... to allow for a weaker player to do things without being thrashed by someone who has played continuously. Without making the experienced player feel like he's wasted his time.
The conflicts need to echo through the game world. Automatically. Without a GM. If Anna conquers land somewhere, this doesn't echo just through the conquest game, it produces challenges and opportunities in all the other games as well. Masses of people running to escape, trying to get into other countries. The extermination of the cultural heritage of the conquered. The worries about expansionalist generals.
It has to do all this without requiring a GM, without requiring more than just index cards. No map, no chips, no exceedingly complex rules or tables.
So, strain your brain! I've got a few ideas, see if you can come up with some. Here's the requirements summary:
1) Game can be carried around in back pocket.
2) Game can be played without dice or other contraptions.
3) Game rewards long playing.
4) Less experienced players not made to face more experienced players directly except by choice.
5) Three or four very different play types to address different player types.
6) Resonance between different play types, echoes between game types.
7) Very minor GM intervention.
8) Much opportunity for player innovation and invention.